Areas in and around Mattan in South Kashmir have emerged as the new confidence builders for migrant Kashmir Pandits to return home, reports Umar Khurshid
Ashok Ji Khar 75, known as PanditJi in his locality, is living in a two-storey damaged mud house in Pran Bawan, Mattan, just opposite the famous Martand Temple.
A retired teacher, Ashok is living with his wife Janak Rani. Their two daughters are married and settled: one in Muran (Pulwama), another in Habba Kadal (Srinagar). Their son Pravesh, 42, has recently shifted with his own family to Ladakh from Udhampur Jammu now.
But never ever did Mrs and Mr Ashok felt the requirement of leaving their Mattan home. They faced the crisis, the scare and the tensions. They, however, have a grievance. “If migrants are being provided such benefits like per month financial compensation, dry ration, security and quarters to live, why are we being separated and singled out,” Ashok asked. “We have survived but we live with the routine tensions.”
Once when some boys pelted stones on CRPF camp, the paramilitary men retaliated by throwing stones directly at Ashok’s home. “Luckily there was no one inside the kitchen so there were no injuries,” Janak Rani said. “Now we have completely shut those windows with ply sheets; we have no glass window in our house.” Except for 10-kg of rice per month, they do not get anything from the government.
Ashok gets Rs10,000 monthly pension that keeps his hearth going. It is not government support to migrants that pains him. It is the rash commentary of the migrants that gets him angry: “They think we are traitors because we didn’t leave Kashmir in the nineties.”He said he had to put in a lot of effort at huge cost to get his daughters educated at the peak of militancy. Sometimes, he would go to Srinagar on foot accompanying his daughter who had to appear in examinations.
Ashok said the migrants do not know the joy of living in harmony with neighbours in the home setting. “We have grown up together so we live together,’ Ashok said.
If anyone in Ashok’s locality faces any problem they always feel free to approach Awqaf Committee Pran Bhawan Mattan. Although migrated Pandits have made an association called Martand Tiruth Trust but the permanent Pandit residents of Pran Bhawan have never approached them.“I feel so proud to say that Muslim Awqaf Committee has always helped us, they treat us like their own brothers,” says Ashok.
Last time, when Ashok underwent a gallbladder surgery, all of his Muslim neighbours, classmates and friends came to see him time and again. “Now also if I feel sick or anything serious happens to me, except our neighbours we have no one to take care,” he said.
During the nineties, there was a Muslim who helped Ashok. But he is not comfortable in identifying him. “He secretly used to visit our home and meet me and my wife personally, even helped some of the Pandit parents to get their daughters married, he was such a humble person,” recalls Ashok.
In 1993, Ashok said he heard gunshots and shouting outside his house. As he came out, he saw a BSF man drenched in blood near the main gate. Scared, he went back and locked his main gate. “Minutes later, I was dragged out of my home, ruthlessly beaten and drowned into the Nallah (a local stream),” Ashok said. “It was much later during the investigation that BSF came to know that it was a misfire by their man and not by militants.”
The Pran Bhawan has Muslims in the majority. Pandits live in a clan but the bonds with the majority are strong. In Jammu, where they go during winters, Ashok said when they emphasize that “we are the permanent resident Kashmiri Pandits they look at us suspiciously as if we have eaten up their properties.”
Zahoor Ahmed 32, a PDD daily-wager lives in a cluster and his home is where he is literally wrapped with all Hindu families.
“We can risk our lives for their protection. We have protected them and we will protect them,” Zahoor said. “Their daughters are our daughters.”
Almost in his fifties, a migrated Pandit has returned home and is living in a secured quarter. He is actively working with Martand Tiruth Trust Association Mattan. Admitting that despite Jammu and Kashmir government making the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandit families a state policy, it has failed.“By and large, every migrant wants to come back no matter how happy they are outside,” he said, agreeing to talk in anonymity. “Our generations are getting spoiled, we couldn’t adjust to the climate.”
Months before when he was coming back from Jammu with his family, he saw a Muslim family smiling at them. “I didn’t recognize them but they recognised me and my wife, the respect they gave to us is unforgettable, they took us to their own home and gave us food,” he said.
As the wait for an invitation to return home got longer, some of them returned voluntarily. In 2015, a handful of Pandits returned home to Dhobi Pora Mattan. They spend their summers in Kashmir and return to Jammu in winters. During their summer stays, they renovate their homes and make them worth living.
Jagan Nath Khar 75, a retired policeman, now lives in a one-storey concrete house on the banks of Dhobi Nallah. Khar has five daughters of whom four are settled in Jammu and one lives next to his house with her family separated.
Khar returned home in 2014. He dismantled his old house that was in a bad state and built one room in a few months. Later in 2015 summer, he constructed one storey home and settled here permanently.
“We do not feel threatened as our neighbours are our security,” Chooni, his wife said. “They never let us feel that we are alone.”
After migrating in the nineties, Chooni visited her house first time in 2006. “Though I felt bad to see the condition of our home what made me happy was the warm welcome by my Muslim neighbours,” Chooni remembers. Now she is comfortable and has started cultivating vegetables in the courtyard. When she has time, she talks with Umar 19, son of her neighbour. “There is the family that deserves the credit for treating us as their own family.”
During the unrest triggered by Burhan’s killing, some Pandit homes reported stone pelting. The society took it very seriously and ensured it is not repeated. “We assured them that if they feel insecure they can easily sleep in our houses and we can take care of their property,” Bilal Ahmad, one resident, who has a Pandit family as his immediate neighbour, said. “They believe in us and trust us to the extent that we can get into their home without a permission.”
A migrated Kashmiri Pandit couple, both professional teachers, are staying in Khar’s upper storey. It is still under construction.
Mohan Lal 84, a retired schoolteacher, lives near the police station at Pran Bhawan. Kashmiri migrated Pandits has been provided facilities, which probably no other group of people in India can aspire, Lal said. They are entitled to reservations under Kashmiri migrant quota. “But they always curse the government for neglecting them,” he ridiculed the community character. “Thankless, the migrants get Home Ministry funds, state policy and also get benefits from PM package.”
Lal’s own son is a post-graduate but is jobless as a result of which he is frustrated. “He was singled out because he was a permanent resident of Kashmir,” Lal said. “A postgraduate was rejected for not migrating at a time when boys and girls with simple matriculation were appointed because they were migrants. Imagine if I die what will happen to my son?”